Orange Duffel Bag speakers help mark 50th anniversary and homelessness awareness at Kennesaw State

'My Orange Duffel Bag' co-author, Sam Bracken

Sam Bracken opens his bag to share life lessons and hope he got from former coach Bill Curry…

Georgia (Oct 9, 2013)Sam Bracken opens his bag to share life lessons and hope he got from former coach Bill Curry  

The story of Sam Bracken’s journey from homelessness to success as a college athlete, businessman and motivational speaker is now woven into Kennesaw State’s historical narrative following a presentation that was part of the University’s 50th Anniversary celebration and its annual Homelessness Awareness Week observance, which runs through Qct. 12. 

During the Oct. 8 student convocation,  Bracken credited the start of his transition from a troubled childhood of abuse, abandonment, drugs and homelessness to interventions like that of his former Georgia Tech coach Bill Curry, who appeared with him for the discussion based on Bracken’s book, “My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change.”

“The biggest achievements in life never happen alone, Bracken said.  “The first step always begins with you … through your own initiative.  You have to be willing to get up early and be willing to work your butt off. But when you do, people always materialize in your life.  I was very fortunate because Bill gave me a chance when he offered me a full scholarship to play football at Tech.  That changed the trajectory of my life forever.”

Curry’s contribution to Bracken’s success didn’t stop there. “I’ll always be grateful for the life lesson he taught me – like the importance of discipline and how to pack my bag with books and dreams.”   

For his part, Curry said he considered it a privilege to be able to help Bracken, whom he described during his introduction of the speaker as a man of great courage and empathy.  He read lines from Rudyard Kipling’s oft-quoted poem “If” to describe what he thought was the secret to Bracken’s transformation: “ ‘If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same …’ That’s what Sam did,” Curry said.

At times tinged with emotion, Bracken described the role Curry’s largesse and his experience volunteering at a youth prison in Salt Lake City, Utah, played in motivating him to help others, something he says he could only do after he learned to really listen to those who needed help and to share his own pain and suffering.

Holding aloft his now 40-year-old orange duffel bag — the one that once held everything the former homeless youth owned when he arrived at Tech — Bracken used it as a metaphor for the choices life often presents. 

“You can pack your bag with hopes and dreams, with hard work and determination or you can keep putting more pain and suffering in the bag,” Bracken said while also holding a plastic bag similar to one many children often arrive at foster homes and shelters with.  “All that pain is still in there but life always leads you in two directions.  What you do with that pain and suffering makes all the difference.  You can be better or worse from life’s experiences.  The choice is always yours.”

Bracken has shared his life experiences and lessons in his book, co-authored with Marietta-based writer Echo Garrett. The essential message, which he shared with his Kennesaw State audience, are “Seven Rules for the Road,” a practical, step-by-step process for overcoming adversity and obstacles.  

Bracken and Garrett use that approach in working with homeless youth, primarily those who have timed out of foster care.  Their Orange Duffel Bag Foundation has helped more than 300 such youth through personal support, workshops and classes like one held recently at Kennesaw State, which exposed them to the possibility of a college education. 

“We’re thrilled to find another willing university partner which is already looking at this issue of homelessness,” said Garrett, who facilitated Bracken’s appearance during Homelessness Awareness Week at Kennesaw State.  “I think people really are not aware of how many people are suffering, how many students, even those right here in Cobb County and at Kennesaw State, who are homeless.”

Lana Wachniak, professor emeritus of criminal justice and sociology and a driving force behind the annual observance of homelessness awareness at Kennesaw State, found Bracken’s presentation “inspirational and thought provoking.”  

“Mr. Bracken affirmed the position that we can help one another through difficult situations, Wachniak said.  “What was so important to me was his statement that while providing a hand out may meet a person’s immediate needs, providing a hand up, or reaching a hand across to another, shows a person that we care. This encouragement helps us and others as we go through life.”

Bracken signed copies of his book, which were donated for Kennesaw State students, some of whom said they also were inspired by his presentation. 

“My take from Mr. Sam Bracken was inspired; it is refreshing to hear positive stories from adverse backgrounds, because so many people feel that children in the juvenile justice system cannot be rehabilitated,” said Diana De Loe, a student in the Masters of Criminal Justice Program who hopes to work on behalf of children in the system.  “I attended because it was mandatory for my criminology class. … Personally, I felt touched.”  

— Sabbaye McGriff 




A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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